German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen will become the first woman to European Commission after her candidacy, proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, was endorsed by the heads of state and government.
A member of Angela Merkel’s CDU, von der Leyen has been Minister of Defense since 2013, after serving as head of the Ministry of the Family, then of Labour and Social Affairs. She is also the only German minister in office since 2005, when Angela Merkel came to power.
However, she has never hesitated to take positions that are at adds with those of the Chancellor, such as the introduction of an interprofessional minimum wage or female quotas for management positions. She also voted in favour of same sex marriage, which Angela Merkel voted against.
As Minister of Defence, she pushed for a greater involvement of German armies abroad – which breaks with the tradition established at the end of the Second World War – and for a strengthening of European defence capacities. But she came under persistant criticism due to problems in the army involving manpower and equipment management, with failed submarines, grounded aircraft and a glaring lack of personnel.
At the European level, her position has enabled her to make herself known while remaining aloof from the turmoil created by migration management or respect for the rule of law that affected the outgoing Commission, and thus she avoided making enemies among the leaders of the group of Visegrad countries (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia), who supported her candidacy.
Her good cooperation with Paris, on issues of Franco-German defense, led Emmanuel Macron to propose on Monday von der Leyen’s candidacy for the presidency of the Commission, after Frans Timmermans, the leader of the Social Democrats, was dismissed from the running.